Goals vs Deadlines (For our Bodies)

How to rethink your body transformation goals for long-term success.

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Photo by Frank Busch on Unsplash
Photo by Frank Busch on Unsplash

For decades, I put deadlines on my body. I thought they were goals. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Set goals for your weight loss?

I’ll be skinny by Christmas. I’ll be skinny by Homecoming. I’ll be skinny by prom…by graduation…by college…by sophomore year…and on and on.

I did finally get skinny. Eventually too skinny. Finally finding my way to sustainably healthy and happy. Now as a holistic nutrition and health coach I see why my earliest “goals” failed and eventually what made me succeed.

I stopped giving my body deadlines.

Yes I had goals, but they weren’t deadlines. I had short-term goals and long-term goals but they weren’t deadlines. The difference may seem one of semantics, at first. But it’s huge. Key.


A deadline is a finish line. It’s a due date. It’s the date you turn in a school paper or a work project or pay your rent. It’s an event that occurs, then ends. It’s a one-time thing that comes and goes.

In the case of your body, setting a deadline to be skinny/lean/tone etc by X date or Y event, is like saying, “Ok I finished my project on time. Here. Done.”

This begs the question: Now what? And it’s when most people go back to living the way they did before. Only to lose the results and continue the cycle. Assuming you hit the deadline in the first place. I never did, and always felt even worse about myself for that.


A goal is a benchmark. Better yet in this case, it’s a mile marker along a path. Goals give us something to shoot for and celebrate. Goals are there to keep our motivation high, to remind us why we’re doing this hard thing of self-change. They’re there until the change becomes less and less hard, and becomes more and more a lifestyle we identify with.

When you cross a mile marker, your acknowledge it. You celebrate. You may stop for a quick breather. But you keep going toward something. Your pace and intensity may change along the way, you may teeter off the path but you keep progressing overall.

An even better analogy for goals related to body change (ok I’ll say it, weight loss) is learning to play a guitar. When you decide you want to learn how to play the guitar, it’s not so that by New Year’s Eve you can say you now know how to play guitar and then never practice or play again.

No, you learn to play guitar, you develop calluses, stumble with chords and technique, play slow then faster and faster, you learn easy songs then harder songs. You go through all the learning and practicing so that, as long as you want for the rest of your life you can jam on classic rock or country or write your own tunes. You learn to continue to play.

So, Now What?

How are you supposed to set goals that aren’t deadlines?

The biggest factor, to me, is asking yourself at the beginning: “Ok, but now what” or rather, “then what?” Whether you hit your goal in a year or two years or six months, what comes after that? How will you maintain it? And is that goal even realistic?

Assuming it is, what skills do you need to acquire in order to maintain the new year? Obtaining those skills becomes your shorter-term action goals, which build to create your long-term goals, which helps transform your deadlines into goal mile markers down the journey of a healthy lifestyle.

The body is never finished. It doesn’t work that way. Nor should healthy living work that way, and that’s what’s needed to achieve the long-term results most people are seeking.

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